Some believe that we live in the midst of a moral revolution, with “liquid modernism” flooding into the bulwarks and mainstays of post-Christian cultures. Others call this sort of talk “alarmist” and believe that we live in the days of happy progress, where we can finally realize a true melting pot of human potential. No one feels this tension more than Christian parents whose children are, for a season—perhaps for a very long season—lost to the LGBT community and its values. It can feel shameful to admit to others in your church that you are torn between your faith and your child and that you fear losing one for the other.
For others, perhaps you feel the weight of those in your church who struggle with same-sex attraction and are faithful members of your church, forsaking sin and living in chastity, but still feeling torn between the culture of the church and the culture of the world. Or perhaps you are someone who also struggles with same-sex attraction. You are silent, though, and the hateful things people in your church say make you more silent every day. If you are someone struggling with same-sex attraction in God’s way—forsaking sin, drinking deeply of the means of grace—then you are a hero of the faith. Nothing less.
For all of these burdens—parental, communal, or personal—the Bible has the answer for it: the practice of daily, ordinary, radical hospitality. I believe that if Christians lived communally, then people who struggle with same-sex attraction would not be driven away from the church for intimacy but instead would find real intimacy within the family of God.
Where should you start? As a church community, designate a house where members live and where people can gather daily. And then start gathering daily. And not by invitation only. Make it a place where the day closes with a meal for all, and with Bible reading and prayer, and where unbelievers are invited to hear the words of grace and salvation, where children of all ages are welcome, and where unbelievers and believers break bread and share ideas shoulder to shoulder. This is the best way that I know of to evangelize your LGBT neighbors—and everyone else.
I first saw the gospel lived and loved in a house like this.
As I’ve noted before, coming to faith in Jesus Christ in 1999 caused a cavernous identity crisis for me. When I came to Christ, I broke up with my partner because I knew that obedience to Christ was commanded. But my heart was not in it. Not at all. And conversion to Christ did not initially change my sexual attraction to women. What conversion did change was my heart and mind. My mind was on fire for the Bible, and I could not read enough of it or enough about it.
And my heart was comforted and encouraged by my time—almost daily—in the home of Ken and Floy Smith. The Smiths took me in. But—I was not converted out of homosexuality. I was converted out of unbelief. Daily Bible reading and daily Christian community made me understand something: Union with Christ was emerging as a central component to my identity, one that competed with my sexual identity. Ken and Floy Smith discipled me in what it means to bear the image of God. From the minute they met me—as a gay-rights activist—they treated me like an image bearer of a holy God, with a soul that will last forever.
The way to evangelize your LGBT neighbors is the same way the Smiths evangelized me: by reminding them that only the love of Christ is seamless. Not so for our spouses or partners. Only Christ loves us best. He took on all our sin, died in our place bearing God’s wrath, and rose victorious from the dead. And yes, Christ calls us to be citizens of a new world, under his lordship, under his protection, under his law.
Original sin explains why some struggle with same-sex attraction and have from the day they remember being attracted to anyone. We know that we were all born in original sin and that this imprints our deepest desires. As we grow in Christ, we gain victory over acting on our sin, but our sinful desires do not go away until glory. And we stand in the risen Christ alone, in his righteousness, not in our own. But we are called—by the God who loves us enough to die for us and live for us—to carry a cross, repent of sin, and follow him. Christians know that crosses are not curses, not for the believer.
And Christ puts the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6)—and he calls us to live in a new family of choice: God’s family. So we evangelize the LGBT family by living differently than others, by living without selfishness or guile. We tell each other the promise found in Mark 10:28–30—the hundredfold promise—and we bear out its truth in our homes: Peter began to say to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (ESV).
Receive a hundredfold.
The gospel promises that our neighbors who leave the LGBT community for Christ will receive a hundredfold blessing of new family in Christ. From where will this hundredfold come? Will it drop from the sky? No. It comes not only through the presence of Christ in us but also from individual Christian families and from the body of Christ as found in the local church. This means that while there is solitude, there is no chronic loneliness. This means that birthdays and holidays are spent with your family of God.
This means that you are known and you know. This means that you live a life filled with godly intimacy. If the church is not ready to deliver on this hundredfold promise, to what are we calling our friends?
In a culture of biblical hospitality, we develop real friendships. We talk about our differences as people who can see each other’s point of view even if we don’t share it.
When we meet a neighbor who identifies within the spectrum of LGBT life and identity, we commit ourselves to listening and to treating each person we meet as an individual. We understand that sins of identity run deep and hard.
If we really believed that the blood of Christ is thicker than the blood of biology or that partaking of the Lord’s Supper together is the highest bond of intimacy people can have, we would see and deal with each other differently. We would stop regarding singles as people who need to be fixed or fixed up. We would understand that biblical marriage points to the marriage of Christ and the church. We would appreciate that while marriage is by God’s design, he did not design every person for biblical marriage. At the same time, all Christians are married to Christ, have union with Christ, and will be fulfilled only in the New Jerusalem.
This is the question that we who wish to evangelize the LGBT community must answer: To what are we calling people? If we know what we are calling people from but do not have anything to call people to, we are only sharing half of the gospel.
Rosaria Butterfield (PhD, Ohio State University) is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and former tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University. She is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.
This essay was adapted from Joyfully Spreading the Word: Sharing the Good News of Jesusedited by Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.